When I was in the clinic last year and while attending the Tuesday group sessions, we often spoke about boundaries, and, using DBT, ways to enforce those boundaries while maintaining self-respect.
While I’ve become better at setting and stating my boundaries, the follow through doesn’t come as easily. I may do well for a while, but then give in for some reason or the other. Maybe it’s because I’m feeling lonely (not to be confused with being alone). Maybe I feel bad for the person. And sometimes, maybe because I feel the need to fit in and avoid conflict (as in the case of my dad).
I’m still a work in progress, and don’t know if I’ll ever become an “expert”. But that’s okay. The important thing is to remember that I have the right to set and maintain these boundaries.
With that in mind I’ve decided to make a list of things I’d like to remember when it comes to my self-respect and boundaries. This list may change and grow over time, but for now this is what I’ve got.
It’s not my responsibility to fix or heal others.
I have the right to say “no” without feeling guilty about it.
I have a right to my own opinions.
My feelings are valid.
I have the right to my own space and time.
I don’t have to explain my reasons.
I’m allowed to change my mind.
I have the right to walk away when a situation or person makes me uncomfortable.
My needs are also important.
I have the right to ask for what I want and need, just as the other person has the right to say “no”.
It’s okay to be different to those around me and not force myself to fit in.
Is there anything you would add to this list?
Yesterday I met up with a friend from group. I hadn’t seen her since our last session in December last year. I wasn’t planning on seeing her again. She invited me for brunch, and I felt obligated to go after having turned down a couple of invitations from her earlier this year, so accepted. That was my first mistake.
It was the longest and most exhausting 4 hours. As soon as she started talking, I realized that I really didn’t want to be there with her. She didn’t have one nice thing to say about anyone, complained about everything and everyone in her life, and didn’t give me a chance to speak. I should have left sooner, but I didn’t feel like I could. I was scared of upsetting her. I didn’t listen to or respect my own boundaries. And I allowed her to cross them too.
I left feeling drained, irritated, and barely able to form a coherent sentence when my dad asked me a question when I got back to the house. I desperately needed a nap, and proceeded to sleep for 3 hours straight! It was dark when I woke up, which made me even more frustrated with myself. But I’d had enough negativity for the day, and decided to watch some Frasier. I needed some good “feels”.
Another reason I had felt obligated to meet up with her is because she’s often told me that she doesn’t have friends. She said it again during brunch, complaining about a new friend she had made who she quickly unfriended due to what seemed to me a silly reason to end a friendship, but to each their own I guess.
I was thinking though that I’m not responsible for her not having friends. It makes me sad to think that she doesn’t, but it’s not something I have to, or can, fix for her. And it also doesn’t mean that I have to be her friend just because she doesn’t have any others. That’s not a true friendship. That’s a sympathy friendship. So I’ve decided that I’m not going to meet up with her again. I just can’t do it. I won’t.
I need to take care of myself first.
Over the past couple of years of learning about boundaries, I’ve learned that I can choose who and what I allow in my life. It’s been a liberating lesson, but also a difficult and sometimes heartbreaking one.
Since Elizabeth and I broke up a few months ago, I’ve often wondered whether a friendship would work between us. I tried to make it work. But two weeks ago, I realized that I just didn’t want to try anymore. It wasn’t working for me, and was only causing me frustration, anger, and pain. It’s been a learning curve, but I now know better what I just won’t stand for in any type of relationship anymore. I’m done letting people walk all over me, treat me like trash and a problem, and not respecting my boundaries. I unfortunately still have to put up with it in my home life until I can move out, but outside that environment I have more control.
I started reading a book a while ago “Attached: The Science of Adult Attachment“. I have an anxious attachment style (anxious/ambivalent more specifically), and almost instantly recognized Elizabeth in the Avoidant attachment style. Looking back, and armed with this new information, the signs had been there from the beginning, but they became far more obvious as our relationship progressed. When I realized all this, I felt a sense of relief. I’d been believing that the relationship not working out was almost entirely my fault, and due to my own issues. And Elizabeth seemed convinced that was the case as well. Being made out to be the “guilty” one was one of the reasons I decided I just can’t have her in my life anymore. I take responsibility for my part in the relationship not working, and I refuse to put up with someone unable to see her own faults and constantly pointing fingers at others. The point is, our attachment styles aren’t compatible. It just doesn’t work out well. I’ve now let go of all the guilt and self-criticism regarding the relationship. It doesn’t serve me and just keeps me stuck in a negative loop.
I learned a lot from this relationship, and now it’s time to let it go. To let her go. I have to do what’s best for me. Even if it hurts initially. And it hurts.
It’s time for a more positive post, because it’s not always just bad.
About a month ago I told my mom that I feel like I haven’t achieved anything in my life. That I’ve just wasted my life, and have nothing to show for myself. I was feeling a little despondent about my web and graphic design business. She told me that the fact that I continue to come up with ideas and work hard, despite the obstacles, she sees that as a great achievement. She said that she would have given up trying long ago, but I didn’t. And at some point, all that hard work just has to pay off.
My design business is about 6 months old, and I think I’ve done pretty well so far. Even though the business isn’t where I’d like it to be, I realize that it will take time. I haven’t had many clients, but at least I’ve gotten some. It’s much more successful than my photography business ever was, and is. And for that, I’m grateful.
For the past couple of months, I’ve been wanting to redesign the website of one of the restaurants my friend (previous wedding business partner) and I often meet at. Their website was ancient, had security issues, and didn’t work correctly. I spoke to one of the managers, gave her my business card, and asked her to please give it to the owner. And then I waited.
About 2 weeks ago I decided I was sick of waiting. So I found out the name of the owner of the restaurant and sent him an email. It took me an hour to write! Not because it was a long email (it wasn’t, it was short and to the point), but because I kept rewriting it in an attempt to get it just right. Damn perfectionist tendencies. It took me another 10 minutes to get the courage to hit “send”. But I did. And I was rewarded two days later with a phone call from the owner, telling me he’d been wanting to change his website for 3 years, but hadn’t gotten around to it! He wanted to meet. The last meeting we had, on Monday, I had shown him what I’ve done so far, and he was super happy with it. That was such a relief. I had been so nervous that he wouldn’t like the design and layout, and I’d have to start over. I find that I get very attached to my design work, and really want the client to like it too. I’m almost done with the website now, and should have it up on Monday. It would have been ready earlier, but of course, I still have my half-day job. I’m glad I’ve got that job though. I don’t know what I’d do without it.
I went into panic mode just before starting this project because I would have to do something completely different to how I would usually do it. I thought I couldn’t, and I’d have to tell my client that I couldn’t help him. But I did the work to figure out just how to do things this way. It set me back two days, but I learned, and with it came a boost of confidence. Adaptability in business is crucial. I learned this from an online sales and entrepreneurship course I’m taking at the moment.
One thing I’ve learned through this experience with the restaurant is that it’s not enough to just hand out business cards and hope for the best. I’m going to have to follow-up, and reach out to the correct person. And my meetings with my friend in business really motivate and inspire me. We motivate and inspire one another, and even though it’s draining spending too much time with her, I always get something out of it. I’ve learned to tell her when she’s overwhelming me, and ask her to talk softer and slow down, or give me 5 minutes to just ground myself. She respects my boundaries, so our meetings have become so much more pleasant, and I leave feeling good (most of the time anyway).
Achievement isn’t limited to career or studies. The other day Jasmine told me that I’m becoming really good with boundaries. That was nice to hear. To me, that’s an achievement. So when I think I haven’t achieved anything in life, I can recognize that thought for the lie it is. Maybe I can refer back to this post during those moments of self-doubt.
Unfortunately the depression and desire to just give up on life hasn’t left. It’s there when I wake up in the morning. It’s there every time I take a break from work. Heck, even while I’m working, but at least once I get into a flow state, I get a break from those feelings and thoughts.
About a week or so ago, I came across a video on Facebook from an interview with Brené Brown. As usual, I was captivated by what she had to say.
In this interview she talks about the importance of boundaries, and how empathy and compassion go hand in hand with having good boundaries, which is something I haven’t realized until now.
Then, a couple of days ago, I also came across an article on the topic of boundaries. It felt like the universe giving me a sign. So since then, I’ve been thinking about it a lot.
I’m sensitive to other people’s energies, and tend to take their feelings on as my own. If someone is stressed and overwhelmed, even if I was in a peaceful mood, I suddenly become just as agitated as they are.
This leads to me feeling as though I need to “fix” them. That it’s my responsibility to make them feel better. Could this perhaps be a selfish thing? By making them feel better, or doing things that I think would make them feel better in such a situation, isn’t that just an attempt at making myself feel better? Almost like saying “I don’t like that you’re feeling this way, it’s making me uncomfortable because what you’re feeling, I’m also experiencing.”
When I look at it this way, then in this interview, when Brené says that some of the most compassionate people she knows are also some of the most boundaried, then her words make sense. If I have good boundaries, I won’t be taking on the other person’s emotions, but will rather be able to keep a healthy distance. And that will help me better support that person. Does this make sense?
I’ve realized that because I don’t have firm boundaries when it comes to what I let in, I’m almost constantly emotionally exhausted. I can’t, and don’t want to, do this anymore. It’s not healthy.
I got to practice this just yesterday. Elizabeth was upset with someone who had crossed one of her boundaries and was being rude and disrespectful. She had walked away from this person in order to get some distance, because she was feeling overwhelmed and didn’t want to say something she might regret. I listened to her, and really focused on what she was saying and the feelings she was expressing.
Just being present with her there in that moment, but mentally picturing a bubble around each of us, helped me gain that necessary distance between her emotions and mine. I could still empathize with her, and offer compassion, but her emotions didn’t affect me negatively. I wasn’t able to keep it up for very long though, but I think this is one of those things that we become better at with continued practice. The little bit I managed to do already helped quite a lot.
When she was feeling calmer, I told her I’m going to go do my own thing for a while, while she speaks to the person who had upset her. I went to the room, put on some music, and worked on some photo’s. I wasn’t feeling overwhelmed, like I would have and managed to let go of the little bits of negative emotions that she had expressed. Knowing that those emotions weren’t mine, I was able to more easily return to my own equilibrium.
Boundaries are so important. And they aren’t selfish. After all, you can’t be there for someone if you’re so overwhelmed yourself due to having weak boundaries. In 2018 I’m going to focus on strengthening my own, and implementing them more effectively. I only realized, after watching the video, and reading the article, just how much I’ve been negatively affected by other people and situations. Unnecessarily so, because I haven’t had proper boundaries established. It’s my responsibility to look after my mental and physical well-being. Not having the right boundaries in place, has made me give my power over to situations and other people. My goal is to work on that. I’ve already started, and I know I can do this.
Here’s the video for anyone who’s interested:
You can find the article here:
Wishing you all a wonderful 2018. Thanks for all your support this year.